Early in the afternoon of April 14, near present White Salmon, Wash., Lewis and Clark paused at a small village where, to their surprise, they found "some good horses of which we saw ten or a douzen. these are the fist horses we have met with since we left this neighbourhood last fall." Lewis predicted that the villagers would not
value the animals highly because "they reside immediately on the river and the country is too thickly timbered to admit them to run the game with horses." Perhaps the expedition could purchase horses and continue their journey overland?
After mulling the idea overnight, at first light on April 15, Lewis tested the market: "accordingly we exposed some articles in exchange for horses the natives were unwilling to barter." Within hours, the expedition stopped at another village. The inhabitants exhibited several horses, but they "would not take the articles which we had in exchange for them." The Indians wanted an "eye-dag" knife, a dagger with a hole in it suitable to insert a rope looped around the wrist. At this point, the Corps of Discovery had been on the trail for one month shy of two years, and their supply of trade items had fallen woefully low. At any rate, that particular item came to the Pacific Northwest with Boston-based sailors, and Lewis and Clark had no access to it when they purchased their stores in Philadelphia. Later that day, after establishing camp at present The Dalles, Ore., a group of Indians stopped for a visit and Lewis and Clark once again broached the topic of horses. Tomorrow, they were told, cross the river and there will be trade.
Negotiating for horses, especially when one party has little to offer, can be a long-drawn-out exercise. And so it was for William Clark, the expedition's designated bargainer. On April 16, Clark crossed the Columbia with 11 men: nine to assist with the merchandise plus two interpreters, George Drouillard and Toussaint Charbonneau. Once ashore, the men split up, going to two villages. Unfortunately, Indians at both villages delayed the greater part of the day without trading a single horse. It might have ended there, except a crippled Great Chief appeared and told Clark if he would come "to his Town his people would trade." Clark agreed, reaching the village at sunset. "I saw great numbers of horses," he wrote. He wanted a dozen of them.
Trade efforts turned sour on April 17. "I made a bargain with the Chief who has more horses than all the village besides for 2 horses. Soon after he Canseled his bargin, and we again bargined for 3 horses, they were brought forward, and only one fit for Service, the others had Such intolerable backs as to render them entirely unfit." Clark packed up to leave, but an Indian came forward to sell two horses and another man sold a third. Charbonneau "purchased a verry fine Mare." Clark decided to stay one more night and continue trading in the morning, after which he would move east. He so informed Lewis by a note, adding that he hoped Lewis would bring the main party and meet him. Lewis dispatched a note back to Clark, urging him to double the price heretofore offered for horses and, if possible, obtain as many as five. He reasoned that delay is "expensive to us inasmuch as we will be compelled to purchase both fuel and food of the Indians, and might the better enable them to execute any hostile design."
Lewis and Clark reunited at 3 pm on April 18. Clark still had only four horses, though he had once again been "tanteerlised with the expectation of purchaseing morre imediately." Four horses were not the hoped-for five, but they were enough to transport some of the supplies, so Lewis ordered the men to cut up two of the canoes for firewood. On April 19, happily, a breakthrough took place. Unexpectedly, Clark "purchased 4 horses at the town & amp; Capt Lewis purchased one." Why the sudden success? Because in desperation, the captains authorized the trading of iron kettles, an item prized higher by the Indians than common elk skins, cloth or ribbons. One can understand then, why Lewis, when one of the men "was negligent in his attention to his horse and suffered it to ramble off," reprimanded him "more severely for this piece of negligence than had been usual with me." n
NEXT WEEK: The Corps disposes of their remaining canoes and takes to the trail.
Robert Carriker has directed eight National Endowment for the Humanities seminars on the Lewis and Clark expedition and is author of Ocian in View! O! the Joy. When he's not out retracing the steps of the Corps of Discovery, he teaches history at Gonzaga University.